In September, Google sent me one of it’s regular “Today, 1 year ago. Today, 2 years ago” messages. It looks through your photo archives and shows you photos from years past. Usually, it is quite a nice feature. This time though, a picture of my wife and our boys at a fundraising fete brought back the realisation that, not long afterwards, a year ago a devastating six to seven week hell descended upon us.
I was expecting that the remaining round of always tricky “firsts” would be difficult, particularly the birthday of my eldest son followed shortly afterwards by DD, death day. What I had not been prepared for was a flood of memories of the trying times in October and half of November spent in hospitals following the discovery of the brain tumours inside my wife’s head.
For the first couple of months following my wife’s death, the only images and memories my brain would conjure up were of those weeks in the hospital and hospice. I guess they were so recent, raw and intense that my mind would play them over and over again. All I could see was the pain my wife was in, the feeling of being totally helpless, and the futility of it all. It was horrible. Right then I wanted to have nice memories but my mind was obviously trying to work out how to process everything that had happened. Anger, sorrow, grief, guilt, relief, sadness, fear, and loss all had to be dealt with.
In time, of course, the harrowing times began to fade away from the forefront of my mind and memories of other times would thankfully start to take their place. But now, a year on, those hospital memories have begun clawing their way back to the front of my mind. The feelings they bring with them are a little different this time around though. I think that, on the whole, I have come to terms with my wife’s passing. Cancer had been such a big part of our lives for so long and the outcome always felt inevitable at some point. It had been discussed very early in our relationship. We just had hoped it would be later rather than sooner. Feelings like anger and guilt have generally moved out or are, at least, small and out-of-mind. The feelings that pervade me are those of sorrow or sadness, helplessness, and loneliness.
The sorrow or perhaps sadness, I cannot find a better word for it, is over the pain and fear my wife was going through at the time. It must have been so hard for her. At the time it was horrible to be witness to but there were things to do, practicalities, possibilities that things would get better, however slight the chance. Everyone was fighting and hoping for a positive outcome, even if deep down we all knew what was most likely coming down the line. But now, looking back, knowing the outcome, removing that layer of hope, the whole thing is terribly sad. At times, when my wife was unable to really speak very much and the pain became too bad my wife would say “ouchy”. She said it so gently but she was trying to communicate that things were very wrong. This simple little word haunts me often. The whole situation was pitiful, in a compassionate sense. Perhaps pity is the word I need but it feels watered down these days.
Whilst people said things like “you did everything you could” or “there was nothing you could have done” it doesn’t take away the helplessness when you can be nothing but a bystander, watching someone you care about suffering. Of course, you can do little things like fetching drinks and food, talk, read, rub feet and adjust the blankets but none of these change the final destination, only make the journey there a little more comfortable. This feeling of being unable to help is so uncomfortable for me that I now have an inner need to make sure that I help those that I care about however I can. The destination is the same for all of us, let’s help each other, let’s straighten the blankets on the way.
The last of my troubled trio is loneliness. I don’t necessarily think this is entirely directly related to the events of last year but I do think it is compounded by them. So many people are struggling with loneliness this year of lockdowns and separation. The thoughts of further lockdowns, especially in the winter months, where the outdoors will no longer offer a warm and sunny escape, also makes one feel low and lonely in advance. Now that the nights are arriving at our windows ever earlier, and the autumn chills greet us when we step outside, we want to feel cosy and warm in our homes. It is hard, sometimes, to feel cosy on your own. I know I am not literally on my own as I have three boys with me but not having someone to give you a hug when you get in from the cold, or to cuddle up with under a blanket is difficult. There is a different type of warmth required in the winter months I think, not just the kind achieved by turning up the thermostat.